What was the latest horror movie that has creeped you out and keeps haunting in your mind for a certain period of time, forcing you to stare at the darkest corner in your room for hours or terrorizing you in your dream and leave you scared to death everytime you fall asleep due to fear and anxiety that can not be contained? While the thought of it is scary enough, the thrill of finding the right horror movie that can stimulate those sensations is definitely risk worthy.
I myself grew up surrounded by the mystical world of Indonesian horror cinema of the 70’s and 80’s. Films like Sundelbolong, Beranak dalam Kubur, Malam Satu Suro, and Ratu Ilmu Hitam are some of the horror movies etched in my memory till today cultivating a deep fear within me for so long since my childhood. They were not just yet another horror movie but created somewhat a psychic power to control your mind, to make you scared and at the same time allowing you to absorb and believe whatever ideas they presented on the screen. Good horror films make you believe in the existence of ghosts, devils and djinns and most importantly, God.
While there were many good horror films from Europe and Hollywood at that time, I am mostly more attracted towards Asian horror films. Reason is because of the geographical proximity, shared cultural values, and the peer influences by those close to me. Asian horror films manage to instill those fears in me in the area where the West failed to do so except perhaps those horrors written by the great Stephen King.
Although as I grow older the magic of horror films is slowly disappearing within me, once in a while there are some good Asian horror films that still have the knack to present the surprising and horrifying essences that managed to leave me shivering in fear.
Asian horror films once made a major international impact, particularly in the early 2000’s and late 90’s with the releases of notable Japanese horror films such as The Ring, Ju On, and Dark Water.
Recently, I noticed that there is a resurgence in Asian horror films with the likes of The Wailing (Korea), The Medium (Thailand), Roh (Malaysia) and Perempuan Tanah Jahanam (Indonesia) revitalizing the genre.
And that is where Taiwan with their latest horror film, Incantation, which has just been recently released on Netflix trying to prove their worth among Asian horror film fans.
Is Incantation good enough to creep you out?
I would say – YES ! The film has adopted the usage of found footage format – a film technique pretty common in horror films nowadays, made popular by The Blair Witch Project. This approach might not be suitable for some audience that will not feel comfortable with how the camera is handled in found footage style.
Yet, this kind of technique is what makes the film feel and looks, REAL. While The Medium and Noroi: The Curse lean towards mockumentary style, Incantation is based on the first person perspective style of found footage.
The story follows a woman named Ronan who tried to lift a curse from her six-year-old daughter, Dodo.
The film uses non linear storytelling technique where time settings in the story are not in direct sequence arrangement where sometimes the story focuses at the present timeline before going back to the past, back and forth.
It all started about six years ago, when Ronan, her boyfriend Dom, and Dom’s cousin Yuan, broke a religious taboo while documenting a ritual for their Internet channel, Ghost Busters. They went to the remote village of the Chen clan, Dom and Yuan‘s relatives, who practiced an esoteric Yunnan religion worshiping a deity called Buddha-Mother.
The series of unfortunate events start to happen to all three of them, especially to the main character, Ronan. From that moment, they realized that all of them made a mistake that should not be made. Okay, the story sounds cliche, flat, and uninspiring even for the horror genre.
So what is so special with Incantation that some viewers claim that this is the most terrifying film ever produced by Taiwanese filmmakers?
Incantation is loosely based on a ‘true story’ of an incident that occurred in 2005 in Taiwan; however, the details of the specific incident were never revealed by the filmmaker.
The mystery surrounding the story, whether it was only a myth or really a true story, was what made the atmosphere in Incantation feel eerie and downright disturbing.
Scares in horror films can come from many places from Jiangshi and Pontianak to Dracula. Sometimes, the threat is supernatural and fantastic, and sometimes it’s more grounded, using the possibilities of the real world to terrify us like what you get to experience in Incantation.
The idea of a group of people, utterly devoted and dedicated to some dark higher power–whether a god, demon, or other otherworldly force–a cult-like ritual which never fails to establish an unsettling atmosphere and gives a more sinister element to the whole story.
Recently, Midsommar and Hereditary and even Mandy are some examples that follow the success of The Children of The Corn and The Wicker Man before them in creating fear through cult-like horror.
And Incantation is a great addition to that list. What I like is the use of practical effects in the movie which reminds me of what makes Asian horror great, the good old J-Horror (Japanese Horror).
Incantation does not rely much on CGI (computer-generated imagery) and that has saved the movie from being stupid. Some modern horror films depends too much in CGI and it made the movies feels too animated and dumb.
Unfortunately, there are numbers of jumpscares, a cheap tactic to make the audience jump off from their seat that you can find in this film, like in any other typical horror films.
And sometimes it is quite annoying. I also do not agree with the use of some music background /sound effects that were used to enhance the emotions in every scene in this film. Please take note that this is a found footage film and therefore the use of music background in certain scenes does make the scenes appear fake.
One good example of found footage horror films that know how to play with the idea of music/sound is Creep directed by Patrick Brice which is also available on Netflix.
But one thing that made Incantation stand out from the rest is the fact that the film does not shy away from messing around with your mind directly. Inviting the audience to chant the mantra/ the spell together to break the curse right from the movie opening together with the warning disclaimer to warn the audience (they mention the merrier as the curse will be much weaker if more people chanting the mantra).
A genius approach by the director to enhance the interactivity of the film. This so-called provocative approach manages to create anxiety towards certain audiences who indirectly start to believe in the spell and fall into their trap, as that anxiety will be making you nervous and uncomfortable throughout your movie seating. Again, a fresh take on horror films which I really appreciate. Effective and interactive. Well done, Kevin Ko.
If you put aside the bizarre and the horror from this film, you will be able to discover the touch of humanities. Betrayal, greed, love, and sacrifice. Somehow those mundane scenes between Ronan, the mother and Dodo, the daughter got stuck in my head and left an impression on me. To love someone is because we love them sincerely or we are just being selfish? For me, those thoughts are the most haunting part in Incantation. Watch it now on Netflix, available starting from 8th July 2022.
*This article is written based on the reflection of the writer’s own personal view and expression towards the subject matter.